Lena Dunham Redefines the Meaning of Cool and Year-end Best Lists

Lena Dunham in 'Girls'
Lena Dunham in 'Girls'

There's no end in sight for the epidemic of year-end best lists. For months now, we've been swimming in more superlatives – the best superlatives? – than ever before in the history of the universe. In fact, there are so many Ten Best rankings circulating right now, the only thing left unranked are lists themselves.

Until that happens, we’re left to sort through the avalanche of information about 2012’s most exceptional people, places and things. And yet, even amid the clamor to anoint and honor, the recent news that Time Magazine has named Lena Dunham its Coolest Person of the Year stands out as the most fascinatingly absurd of the bunch. Not that she's undeserving. "Girls" remains one of the most fiercely honest and entertaining shows on television. But to call her "cool" is just silly and seems to miss the point she's been making about women's messy inner lives throughout her short bright-burning career.

There has seldom been a young figure in the media more loved, loathed and envied – often simultaneously – than the twenty-six-year-old writer-director. Ever since she broke into the popular consciousness with"Tiny Furniture," her post-collegiate ode to art-damaged New Yorkers, any story to mention Dunham’s name detonates an explosion of impassioned screeds filling comments sections throughout the digi-sphere. To be truly cool is to reject consensus, so this innate ability to polarize may be Dunham's best and only qualification for Time’s title, previously awarded to such arbiters of alternative chic as Ryan Gosling and James Franco.

However, as anyone who has watched “Girls” (or the below teaser trailer for the show’s upcoming season also featuring Zosia Mamet, daughter of David) well knows, there is nothing cool – in any sense of the word – about Dunham. In fact, she's the embodiment of its antithesis: a warm, viscous woman of visceral impulsivity. On screen and off, she has created a persona constructed from the raw materials of her flaws, foibles, and deepest sources of shame (self-imposed and otherwise). As a filmmaker, Dunham fearlessly trains her camera’s probing eye on her most unflattering angles, revealing the needy, self-sabotaging, pizza-bingeing, attention-craving animal straining the buttons on her peasant-chic thrift store ensembles. In a sense, she reveals her most unattractive compulsions – humiliating sex with asshole boyfriends, twitter exhibitionism – to remind us that underneath it all, nobody’s cool – a fact no $3.7 million book deal can alter.

And from the looks of this clip, “Girls” will continue to deliver its cringe-tastic take on the sexual and emotional lives of the young and privileged. What are your thoughts on Lena Dunham’s latest laurel and the prospects for Girls’ upcoming season to live up to the last?